ARCH ENEMY: WAGES OF SIN (2001)
1) Enemy Within; 2) Burning Angel; 3) Heart Of Darkness; 4) Ravenous; 5) Savage Messiah; 6) Dead Bury Their Dead; 7) Web Of Lies; 8) The First Deadly Sin; 9) Behind The Smile; 10) Snow Bound; 11) Shadows And Dust.
«Commercial death metal» may sound like an odd oxymoron, but if there ever was such a thing in the first place, Wages Of Sin would be the perfect candidate for the top spot. Apparently, the band changed their standard tuning for the record, switching to the key of C, and this (or something else; I'm no musicologist) resulted in a slightly less grueling, perhaps even «poppier» sound — the darkness and brutality remains, but the insane aggression is somewhat tamed; and the lead guitar lines acquire a more classically-influenced sheen, as if someone were secretly throwing in transcriptions of XIXth century symphonic phrasing, from time to time. (A usual thing for «power metal», but one which true death-grinders tend to avoid, lest they be perceived as way too incongruously happy, for their own good).
But obviously, the most «commercial» trick they have played on us all here is replacing Johan Liiva with a new female vocalist — the «blonde bombshell of metal», Angela Nathalie Gossow. Now I have no idea how widespread death metal growling is among women these days, once the role model has been set up, but fact is, in 2001 the Cookie Monster could hardly boast any significant amount of female offspring. Gossow might not have been there first, but she was clearly the best, and this could not help but bump up general interest in the band.
Without a doubt, Gossow is fabulous; the only argument that fans of Liiva might have against her is that she has the audacity of pulling the listener's attention too far away from the actual music onto herself, whereas Liiva never did. So she clearly has much more of an ego, and there is nothing wrong with that: the lady deserves all that attention. Unlike Liiva, she actually manages to tune her growling, and come the closest to «singing» in that voice that I have ever heard from any other growler. Obviously, the singing range is limited by definition by those registers, but it still makes her sound like a «natural» — usually, the effect from «death vocals» is simply comical; Gossow sounds like she was born that way, and I actually had to calm myself down by locating a couple interviews with the dame in which she speaks with her normal voice, just to make certain that Rosemary's Baby truly is a piece of fiction.
What about the songs, then? This is where one may find the heart of discontent. They are generally not as impressive or memorable as the ones on Burning Bridges. The only riff that stayed home with me after three listens was 'Dead Bury Their Dead', due to an odd resemblance to the main theme of 'The 39 Lashes' from Jesus Christ Superstar (! — yes, stranger things have happened). The syncopated passages on 'Ravenous' were also impressive, but the main melody there seems to be merely a variation on the earlier 'Diva Satanica'. And there is a terrific «growling» guitar lick woven into the texture of 'Behind The Smile', lifted from the intro to Black Sabbath's 'Iron Man', but that's hardly enough to raise the song to five-star status.
One could also mention some minor details — the album opens with an icy, echoey piano intro, the only moment of relative tenderness, but still ominous from the very first second; 'Savage Messiah' is the only song to feature some sort of a «build-up», steadily growing from a menacing guitar-and-harmonica intro to the usual all-out fury; and 'Snow Bound' is a brief power-metal style instrumental. The rest is Jackhammer Incarnate. Thumbs up: even if individual songs may be disappointing, Gossow's presence glues them all together in one unforgettable Satanic feast. Not for the faint of heart, though — and do not try this at home, unless you intend to make Twitter your only means of communication to the end of your days.
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